A Business Man's Religion 

 
 A new and fair division of the goods and rights of this world should be the main object of those who conduct human affairs.
De Tocqueville
A LETTER TO JOSEPH FELS
  
_______ Theological School.
    
   "Mr. Joseph Fels, Philadelphia, Pa.
   "Dear Sir, - Having read much of you and your many acts of charity and philanthropy, I write to ask for a donation from you for our institution.
    "It may seem strange that I ask this of one who is not of our faith, yet I have read in some of your speeches that you make no distinction of race, creed, or color, and that you regard all men as your brothers; that you believe in the Brotherhood of Man and the Fatherhood of God. Thus you are teaching what our institution teaches, and our school is doing as best it can with limited means the work you are trying to do ...

  
"Yours respectfully,

   "_______, ______, ________Dean" 


JOSEPH FELS' REPLY
   "Rev. _____
   Dean, ________  Theological School.
  
   "Dear Sir,
   "Replying to your communication, I am at a loss to know where you have read of my 'acts of charity and philanthropy.' I am not a philanthropist and give nothing to charity.
   "When you say I am not of your 'faith' I suppose you mean of your creed. Let me state my faith and we can see wherein we differ.
   "I believe in the Fatherhood of God, and therefore in the Brotherhood of Man. By 'Man' I mean all men. So far I suppose we agree?
   "I believe that the Creator freely gave the earth to all of his children that all may have equal rights to its use. Do you agree to that?
   "I believe that the injunction 'in the sweat of thy brow shalt thou eat bread' necessarily implied 'Thou shalt not eat bread in the sweat of thy brother's brow.' Do you agree?
   "I believe that all are violating the Divine Law who live in idleness on wealth produced by others, since they eat bread in the sweat of their brothers' brows. Do you agree to that?
   "I believe that no man shall have power to take wealth he has not produced or earned unless freely given to him by the producer. Do you agree?
   "I believe that Brotherhood requires giving an equivalent for every service received from a brother. Do you agree?
   "I believe it is blasphemous to assert or insinuate that God has condemned some of His children to hopeless poverty and to the crimes, want, and misery resulting therefrom, and has at the same time awarded to others lives of ease and luxury without labor. Do you agree?
   "I believe that involuntary poverty and involuntary idleness are unnatural and are due to the denial by some of the rights of others to use freely the gifts of God to all. Do you agree?
   "Since labor products are needed to sustain life and since labor must be applied to land in order to produce, I believe that every child comes into life with Divine permission to use land without the consent of any other child of God. Do you agree?
   "Where men congregate in organized society, land has a value apart from the value of things produced by labor; as population and industry increase, the value of land increases, but the value of labor products does not. That increase in land value is community-made value. Inasmuch as your power to labor is a gift of God all the wealth produced by your labor is yours, and no man nor collection of men has a right to take any of it from you. Do you agree to that?
   "I believe the community-made value of land belongs to the community just as the wealth produced by you belongs to you. Do you agree to that?
   "Therefore I believe that the fundamental evil is the iniquitous system under which men are permitted to put in their pockets--confiscate, in fact-the community-made values of land, while organized society confiscates for public purposes a part of the wealth created by individuals. Do you agree to that?
   "Using a concrete illustration: I own in the city of Philadelphia 11% acres of land, for which I paid $32,500 a few years ago. On account of increase of population and industry in Philadelphia that land is now worth about $125,000. I have expended no labor or money on it. So I have done nothing to cause that increase of $92,500 in a few years. My fellow-citizens in Philadelphia created it, and I believe it therefore belongs to them, not to me. I believe that the man-made law which gives to me and other landlords values we have not created is a violation of Divine Law. I believe that Justice demands that these community-made values be taken by the community for common purposes instead of taxing enterprise and industry. Do you agree?
   "I am using all the money I have as best I know how to abolish the Hell of civilization, which is want and fear of want. I am using it to bring in the will of our Father, to establish the Brotherhood of Man by giving each of my brothers an equal opportunity to have and use the gifts of our Father. Am I misusing that money? If so, why and how?
   "If my teaching is wrong and contrary to true religion I want to know it. I take it that if you are not teaching religion in its fullness you wish to know it. Am I correct? "What I teach may be criticized as mixing politics with religion, but can I be successfully attacked on that ground?
   Politics, in its true meaning, is the science of government. Is government a thing entirely apart from religion or from righteousness? Is not just government founded upon right doing?
   "If my religion is true, if it accords with the basic principles of morality taught by Jesus, how is it possible for your school to teach Christianity when it ignores the science of government? Or is your school so different from other theological schools that it does teach the fundamental moral principles upon which men associate themselves in organized government?
   "Do you question the relation between taxation and righteousness? Let us see. If government is a natural growth, then surely God's natural law provides food and sustenance for government as that food is needed; for where in nature do we find a creature coming into the world without timely provision of natural food for it? It is in our system of taxation that we find the most emphatic denial of the Fatherhood of God and the Brotherhood of Man, because, first, in order to meet our common needs, we take from individuals what does not belong to us in common; second, we permit individuals to take for themselves what does belong to us in common; and thus, third, under the pretext of taxation for public purposes, we have established a system that permits some men to tax other men for private profit.
   "Does not that violate the natural, the Divine Law?
   Does it not surely beget wolfish greed on the one hand and gaunt poverty on the other? Does it not surely breed millionaires on one end of the social scale and tramps on the other end? Has it not brought into civilization a hell of which the savage can have no conception? Could any better system be devised for convincing men that God is the father of a few and the stepfather of the many? Is not that destructive of the sentiment of Brotherhood? With such a condition, how is it possible for men in masses to obey the new commandment 'that ye love one another'?
   What could more surely thrust men apart, what could more surely divide them into warring classes?
   "You say that you need money to train young men and fit them 'to carry the Word to the heathen of foreign lands, and thus be instrumental in dispelling the darkness that reigns among millions of our brethren in other lands. That is a noble purpose. But what message would your school give to these young men to take to the benighted brethren that would stand a fire of questions from an intelligent heathen? Suppose, for example, your school sends to some pagan country an intelligent young man who delivers his message; and suppose an intelligent man in the audience asks these questions:
   "You come from America, where your religion has been taught for about 400 years, where every small village has one of your churches, and the great cities have scores upon scores. Do all the people attend these churches? Do your countrymen generally practice what you preach to us?
   Does even a considerable minority practice it? Are your laws consistent with or contrary to the religion you preach to us? Are your cities clean morally in proportion to the number of churches they contain? Do your courts administer justice impartially between man and man, between rich and poor? Is it as easy for a poor man as for a rich one to get his rights in your courts?
   "You have great and powerful millionaires. How did they get their money? Have they more influence than the poor in your churches and in your Congress, your legislatures and courts? Do they, in dealing with their employees, observe the moral law that the laborer is worthy of his hire? Do they treat their hired laborers as brothers?
   Do they put children to work who ought to be at play or at school?
   "Do your churches protest when the militia is called out during a strike, or do they forget at such times what Jesus said about the use of the sword?
   After four centuries of teaching and preaching of your religion in your country, has crime disappeared or diminished, have you less use for jails and fewer and fewer of your people driven into madhouses, and have suicides decreased? Is there a larger proportion of crime among Jews and Infidels than among those who profess the Christian religion?
   "What answers would your missionary return to these questions? How would you answer them?
   "I do not attack Christianity. The foregoing questions are not intended as criticism of the great moral code underlying Christianity, but as criticism of the men who preach but do not practice that code. You may accuse me of 'unbelief,' but that is no answer. If you have any criticism to make of me or any accusation to bring against me, answer the questions first. Give me straight answers, and I will give straight answers to any questions you may put to me. My contention is that the code of morals taught by Jesus is a code of justice, of right living and right doing; that the simple code of morals taught to the fishermen of Galilee by the Carpenter of Nazareth is all-embracing and all-sufficient for our social life.
   "I shall be glad to contribute to your theological school or to any other that gets down to the bedrock of that social and moral code, accepts it in its fullness, and trains its students to teach and preach it regardless of the raiment, the bank accounts, the social standing or political position of the persons in the pews.
   "Very truly yours,
   (Signed) "Joseph Fels."



Joseph Fels
The covered wagon was still creaking towards Western horizons when Joseph Fels was born, in a small town below the Mason-Dixon Line. He came of simple folk, hard working and respected. When, at fifteen, he put school behind him and started out to make a living, there was no one to smooth the way for him; he was strictly on his own. The Nineteenth Century was colored by men like Joseph Fels, men who came up from nowhere to forge their link in the lengthening chain of American industry. The country was young; land was free, and opportunity was plentiful. When only twenty-two years old, in 1876, he had established a manufacturing business of his own. Before the turn of the century, Fels-Naptha soap was an accepted product in American households. Success brought its harvest of gold.
   To Joseph Fels, the least important thing in life was piling up a fortune. The plight of humanity concerned him far more deeply. He met all men on an equal plane, for he believed in men and in the aspirations of men.
   Equality of opportunity and justice for all were tenets in his humanistic philosophy.
   The economic philosophy of Henry George formed a perfect complement to Fels' idealism, and "Progress and Poverty," which Mr. George wrote in 1879, gave him what he had always sought-a practical plan for the achievement of a better state of society. He gave generously of his time, and lavishly of his money, to advance the ideas of this great American thinker. Joseph Fels was a humanist, not a religionist. In the letter reproduced here, his views on religion are expressed with the forthrightness which characterized his whole career.

Hovedside/Main Page: Grundskyld - Henry George

Summary of pages in English: The Land Question

Established March 2009